Three of Ellis Rowan's Birds of Paradise artworks

Ellis Rowan (1848–1922) is one of Australia’s most celebrated artists. Best known for her striking wildflower paintings—many of which are held by the National Library of Australia—Rowan also had an interest in birds. In 1916 and 1917, when she was almost 70 years old, she had the opportunity to fulfil a long-held desire to spend time painting professionally in New Guinea. There, she created numerous pictures of the region’s Birds of Paradise (Paradisaeidae) and wildflowers. With the assistance of Indigenous Papuan people, she was able to paint most of the 42 species of Birds of Paradise, before completing some works from specimens back in Australia.

Drawing together material from the Library’s vast Rowan holdings, this exhibition presents some of Ellis Rowan’s best paintings from this period and provides an opportunity to engage with a less familiar part of her work.

Birds of Paradise - Ellis Rowan in New Guinea was curated by Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll.

Watch the Online Tour

Join Exhibition Curator Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll, and Director of Exhibitions Dr Guy Hansen, for an online tour of this exhibition featuring the lesser-known, but no less remarkable, Birds of Paradise by Ellis Rowan.

View the Exhibited Items

A significant portion of the material on display in this exhibition is available to view online. Select from the options below to view the Birds of Paradise watercolour paintings and gouache and watercolour muslin plate designs, learn more about the artist, and continue to explore the Library's extensive Ellis Rowan collection.

Attend the Exhibition

The National Library's exhibition galleries are open daily from 9am to 5pm AEST. This exhibition is free to attend and runs until Monday 8 March, 2021. Visitors are advised that due to preservation reasons, some of the collection items will be changed over during the exhibition. View the exhibition checklist and plan your journey to the National Library of Australia.

Shop the Exhibition

The National Library's Bookshop has a selection of Ellis Rowan prints, postcards, books and other items available for purchase, including the recently published, Ellis Rowan: A Life in Pictures.